Bateson invited two former students, John Weakland, an anthropologist and former chemical engineer, and Jay Haley, a communications major, to join him in this study. Their project was housed at the Menlo Park Veterans. Affairs Hospital in California and it was here that they developed an interest in the communication patterns of schizophrenics (Weakland, Watzlawick, and Riskin, 1995). Their initial concern was with the origin of schizophrenia.


Because they were unable to get accurate descriptions of the history of their schizophrenic patients or their families, they decided to study their communication patterns by interviewing them and taping their sessions (Weakland, Watzlawick, and Riskin, 1995). This led to their desire to provide treatment and to their receiving a subsequent grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to study the effects of family therapy on schizophrenics and their families. During this period, Bateson invited Don Jackson, a psychiatrist at the VA hospital, to serve as a consultant to their project. He later became a core member and jointly authored a paper, “Toward a Theory of Schizophrenia” (Bateson et al., 1956), which revolutionized the thinking about severe psychopathology.


The paper posited that schizophrenic behavior is caused by paradoxical, or double-bind, family communication patterns in which verbal messages are often contradicted at the nonverbal level. For example, the team observed a situation in which a schizophrenic patient on the ward attempted to hug his mother when she visited him.